Tarnished Gold: Olympic Uniforms And The Ancient Regime

The inevitable result of the fall of  the Ivy League Look in 1967 is that eventually, for a certain segment of the public, the look would become America’s version of the powder and wigs of the ancient regime. Which means it’s time for the guillotine.

Ralph Lauren, the man largely credited with saving the Ivy League Look from extinction by making it fashionable and aspirational, is now invariably on the chopping block, at least for his prep-infused Olympic outfits. Such critiques have been lobbed since 2008, of course, when RL got the contract to make the opening ceremony outfits, but the harangues grow more vociferous every four years.

Writes Fast Company:

Team USA has had an unmistakably preppy look since 2008, when the U.S. Olympic Committee gave Ralph Lauren the contract to become the official outfitter for the opening and closing ceremonies. But this year, there’s been intense backlash over an aesthetic that’s historically tied to whiteness and privilege.

There was nothing surprising about these uniforms, but this year, people mercilessly mocked them on Twitter. “Every Summer Olympics, they let Ralph Lauren dress our team like they’re on vacation in Newport,” wrote Drew Magary, a columnist at the sports blog Defector. “What in the East Coast boarding school are these?” commented writer Rebecca Welch. “Team Karen,” an Air Force Veteran tweeted, referring to a nickname given to white women who act in an entitled way toward people of color. Some people even called for Ralph Lauren to be fired as the official outfitter of the Olympics.

Given that the Olympic uniforms have such symbolism, reflecting a country’s value’s and identity, it’s not surprising that they’d trigger such a strong reaction. New York Times reporter Astead Herndon pointed out on Twitter that the looks don’t capture the diversity and multiculturalism of the U.S. team. “Every Olympics Ralph Lauren dresses up a diverse cross section of America’s finest athletes as a Vampire Weekend cover band,” he wrote, referring to the band founded at Columbia University and known for its preppy outfits.

On some level, the response makes sense in the wake of the racial and social reckoning that has taken place over the last year. The preppy aesthetic has been historically associated with elite, often exclusionary spaces. Ralph Lauren’s mascot, the polo player, harkens to a sport that is overwhelmingly played by wealthy white people. And while Ralph Lauren and other preppy brands like Rowing Blazers have made an effort to diversify by using Black and brown models, many people still associate the look with white privilege.

As to what the alternative might look like, you can probably imagine:

It’s unclear how long the brand’s contract extends for, particularly given the public outcry this year. If the U.S. Olympic Committee does switch designers, we have our money on Virgil Abloh. We can already see the cutting-edge streetwear styles he’d create for the team, along with the letters “U.S.A.” in his characteristic ironic quotation marks.

Wear your classic American clothes with dignity and pride, gentlemen, almost like you were representing your country. — CC

26 Comments on "Tarnished Gold: Olympic Uniforms And The Ancient Regime"

  1. Team USA uniforms are a joke! Breton sweaters and neckerchief á la Cary Grant in “To Catch a Thief” on the French Riviera.

    Probably all the clothes are made in China.

  2. Matthew MacLeod | July 26, 2021 at 4:46 pm |

    I’d caution you against wading into this swamp. You might find yourself cancelled for promoting un-woke fashion.

  3. @Matthew MacLeod Cancelled by…? I certainly won’t stop reading.

  4. elder prep | July 26, 2021 at 5:33 pm |

    I think the US Olympic Team’s appearance is traditionally American, as it should be. The fashion and political fringe won’t be satisfied until the team appears in rainbow outfits. We’ve got to stop being whipped and led by the fringe elements in our nation!

  5. whiskeydent | July 26, 2021 at 6:01 pm |

    The uniforms are boring and uninspired, which causes people to focus on all sorts of nonsense. If they were creative and attractive, people wouldn’t give a damn.

  6. Another guy | July 26, 2021 at 7:55 pm |

    The 64 Olympics served to introduce the Japanese public to Ivy style which they certainly wove into the fabric of their society. I dont love the uniforms but its hard to imagine a better designer for these games.

  7. Roger Sack | July 26, 2021 at 8:11 pm |

    White priviledge? It took my family three generations counting
    my grandfather’s who emigrated after deserting from the Czar’s
    army. I made it to an Ivy League school and a brief State Department
    career.Yes, being white was a great advantage, but the privilege was

  8. Trevor Jones | July 26, 2021 at 8:51 pm |

    Rowing Blazers made the El Salvador team uniform.

  9. “But this year, there’s been intense backlash over an aesthetic that’s historically tied to whiteness and privilege.”

    I agree. The US should have more diverse outfits. They should have their pants falling down
    with their back sides showing.

  10. Roy R. Platt | July 26, 2021 at 9:39 pm |

    Having all the teams revert to wearing what was worn by the participants in the Olympics in Ancient Greece should end any comments or criticism about what any team was wearing, where it was made, or who designed it.

    Perhaps also only having a winner as was done in Ancient Greece and not having any second or third places would also be an improvement, as would be following the Ancient Greek example and not having any judged events, only events where it is easy for everyone to see who is the winner.

  11. The Team USA uniforms are made in the USA. I would much rather have Uncle Ralph’s company than Nike or Thom Browne.

  12. Old School | July 27, 2021 at 1:45 am |

    “Wear your classic American clothes with dignity and pride”.

    Hear! Hear!

  13. It comes as no surprise that our clickbait-clout-obsessed internet culture would dedicate under-researched thinkpieces to tearing down Ralph Lauren’s very preppy Olympics outfits. I get it though: Maybe it’s time to “pass the torch” to another designer who more closely embodies the current American style. I envision t-shirts or hoodies emblazoned with proud, screenprinted eagles or quotes from select Constitutional amendments for the top. Dumpy woodland camo cargo shorts and Crocs would complete the bottom half of the ensemble to perfection.

  14. Another note, this one sarcasm-free: To acknowledge our white privilege doesn’t negate the hard work and hardships of our ancestors or of ourselves. I’m sure I won’t convince you that white privilege is baked in to our society Roger Sack, but it most definitely is. Our perspectives and presumptions as white guys are centered as the standard in every hall of power in this country. In a pluralistic society such as ours, that is a huge problem. We have a caste system, which is ironic considering the stated reasons for founding this country in the first place. I think we have more work to do.

  15. Award the sponsorship to;

  16. Nevada,

    I consider it the height of racism and disrespect to expect so little of our black brothers and sisters. You say that you think we have more work to do. What do you plan to do? I truly am asking without sarcasm.


  17. Will, I appreciate your sincerity and I understand why you would think that way. A lot of reasonable people do, and if our society were truly an equal one, it would be a perfectly reasonable way to think. But given that racial inequality exists in every facet of public life in this country, I choose to listen instead to what people of color tell me they experience as the height of racism and disrespect, not what other white people like me conjecture it to be. We don’t live that experience, so it’s on us to learn from those who do and to work to change things where we can, starting with our own awareness.

  18. In the 70s and 80s, the US olympic team wore some other “classic” American looks: levis, Stetson western hats, and pearl snap shirts. I’d be interested to see them do that once again, just for fun.

  19. Nevada,

    Liberal white self satisfaction has been the most damaging thing for black society in this country. There are monuments to the destruction of black society in the form of government ghetto housing, abortion clinics in black neighborhoods, general blight and government programs like midnight basketball and school systems in which not one child is proficient in any subject. I choose to treat black people (not people of color or African Americans) with the same respect and expectation of reciprocal respect that I would of any white person.

    The world is not a fair place and never has been. No society has ever been truly equal but I think black people have a better chance in the US than any other country in the world in spite of some seemingly well meaning white people.


  20. I didn’t expect us to agree Will. You call it self-satisfaction but I’m honestly not sure what you mean: It seems to me that nobody is satisfied with the present condition of America’s racial wounds. Something isn’t working. And, with respect, I reiterate that I’d rather hear from Black people about what they view as the source of any societal problems they uniquely face in this country.

  21. Nevada

    I contend that this country’s racial wounds are mostly a product of the democrat party, their almost religious belief in socialism and the media. Socialism is definitely not working and a white man who capitalizes black and, I would bet a large sum does not capitalize white, is condescending and doesn’tdo a thing to help black people. For decades the democrats have owned the black vote and black people have believed their plight to be the fault of whites and conservatism. Their views are and have been wrong.


  22. I appreciate your responses Will. For the record, and in the interest of intellectual honesty, it’s the “Democratic Party.” I don’t ever see a need to refer to the Republican Party as “the Repub Party.” It’s a needless and derisive elision of the last two (quite important) letters, and it’s meant to blunt the sound of a word that you evidently dislike. On the matter of capitalizing “Black” when referring to Americans of African descent, it’s a newly-accepted norm that has been adopted in academia, literature, and media sources. When and if that style preference changes, I’ll happily do the same.
    You wrote that my views disrespect Black people because, according to you, it is racist to “expect so little” of them. But then you go to write that Black people on the whole are misguided as to the causes of the inequities they face in this country. That sure sounds disrespectful to me.

  23. Henry Contestwinner | August 2, 2021 at 2:39 am |

    If I may be so bold as to interject, to say that blacks are misguided could mean that blacks are led astray by those who profit from blacks’ continuing status as “victims.” If lies are repeated often enough, people come to believe them, and will continue to hold to them in spite of clear evidence to the contrary (cf. the “Fine People” Hoax, the “Drinking Bleach” Hoax, etc.).

  24. Be wary of newly accepted norms. If you don’t you’ll start believing that men can have babies, mostly peaceful protests, listing pronouns, etc al.


  25. Sirs, as white guys writing back and forth about matters of race, we are all decidedly under-informed to one degree or another, and it’s clear we’re not gonna agree on much in that sphere. In the spirit of the nature of this site, may I suggest reading some James Baldwin, who was photographed wearing a number of styles of clothing through the years, but was often seen wearing heyday ivy looks.
    And, getting back to the original post, if ivy-as-a-style and a set of values wants to have any relevancy going forward, it has to be an inclusive place for more kinds of Americans, like those without elite New England pedigrees, those with backgrounds and politics that differ from yours, and yes, those with gender-neutral pronouns.

  26. Nevada,

    I finally agree with you that we will certainly not agree. You may be surprised that I am quite familiar with James Baldwin’s works and of Langston Hughes (his Weary Blues with the Horace Parlan Quintet is worth a listen) and many others. You may benefit from reading some Thomas Sowell. And I would encourage both sexes and all colors and backgrounds to embrace ivy/preppy/trad. I guess we agreed on two things.


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